Adidas withdraws opposition to Black Lives Matter three-stripe logo
In 2020, the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, which has described itself as a fundraising and grantmaking entity for the Black Lives Matter movement, used to trademark two designs for promotional and fundraising purposes. One application was for a design the group has used as its logo on its website, with the words “Black Lives Matter” over three yellow stripes. The second application was to trademark the three yellow stripe design so that it could be used for fundraising purposes on merchandise including mugs, clothing and bags.
Adidas had filed an objection to the second application on Monday, arguing that the foundation’s the three-stripe design was “confusingly similar” to Adidas’ own “Three-Stripe Mark” and was likely to cause “confusion, deception or error as to the association” of the organization with Adidas. It then went back on Wednesday.
It is quite unusual for a trademark case to be withdrawn so quickly, Phillip Johnson, a professor of commercial law at Cardiff University, said in an interview. “The decision to withdraw the case was most likely for reputational management reasons rather than the merits of the case.”
The company’s attempt to block the Black Lives Matter foundation from trademarking its logo had attracted confusion and criticism on social media – which someone charged the company with believing that it had “the eternal rights on straight lines” while another joked: “Three stripes and you’re out, according to Adidas.”
Trademark experts had been divided about the strength of Adidas’ first case. “When you look at the difference in color and shape of the stripes, I think Adidas is unlikely to win this case if it goes to trial,” trademark attorney Josh Gerben wrote on Twitter.
However, Johnson noted that the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation’s design of three parallel lines “could be argued to be very similar to the registered Adidas” trademark. “Like most of the use of Adidas has been in relationships [to] clothing, it would be much more difficult for the BLM to get the mark registered for clothing than it would be for, say, a charity fundraiser or public awareness campaign,” he added.
Adidas has been involved in several trademark disputes over the years over the three-stripe design, which was registered by founder Adi Dassler in 1949.
For more than a decade, Adidas tried to stop fashion designer Thom Browne from using stripes in his luxury designs, arguing that his striped designs are too similar to its own – even though his designs used a different number of stripes. During a trial in New York in January, which Adidas lost, Browne’s lawyers argued that stripes are a common design.
Adidas has also lost trademark battles in European courts over its three-stripe design, with the Belgian company Shoe Branding Europe in 2019 and with the Dutch company Fitnessworld in 2003.
Adidas has filed over 90 lawsuits and signed more than 200 settlement agreements related to the three-stripes trademark since 2008, Reuters reported on Wednesday, citing court documents.
The Black Lives Matter movement has swept the globe since it was founded in 2013, with people around the world taking to the streets to show solidarity with black Americans in the face of police brutality and gun violence – but also to highlight racial injustice across Europe and in other countries.
How the Black Lives Matter movement is sweeping the world
The Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation did not immediately return a request for comment early Wednesday.
Adidas has had a turbulent few months. In October, the company was forced to cut ties with rapper and fashion designer Kanye West over anti-Semitic statements he made. Many criticized Adidas for being slower than other companies to cut ties with West, who now goes by Ye.
Earlier this month, Adidas warned it could suffer its first annual loss in decades amid the fallout from its now-defunct partnership with the disgraced musician, a breakup that largely led to its $763 million fourth-quarter loss, The Washington Post.